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At first meeting of Concerned Citizens of Greater Arbutus, neighbors look for next steps

From left to right, Mindy Winkler, Kim Cugle Blair and Jen Gower, organizers of the Concerned Citizens of Greater Arbutus, at the group's inaugural meeting on Aug. 16, 2018.
From left to right, Mindy Winkler, Kim Cugle Blair and Jen Gower, organizers of the Concerned Citizens of Greater Arbutus, at the group's inaugural meeting on Aug. 16, 2018. (Cody Boteler / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

About two dozen residents gathered Thursday night for the first meeting of the Concerned Citizens of Greater Arbutus (CCGA), a group seeking to create a formal community association for the Arbutus-Halethorpe-Relay area.

The “meeting of the minds,” as it was advertised, came after some residents fed up with “rude, sarcastic bickering” on an Arbutus community Facebook group formed a new page and started discussing neighborhood issues.

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Kim Cugle Blair, one of the organizers of the meeting and Facebook group, said at the meeting, which was held at the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department, 5200 Southwestern Boulevard, that she wants neighbors and residents to come together to solve problems instead of complaining behind an electronic screen.

“People bickering and that kind of thing on Facebook, that’s not helping anything out,” she said. “It’s the togetherness and the community working together.”

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Cugle Blair, along with Mindy Winkler and Jen Gower, the other organizers of the meeting, prepared an agenda that included discussing the community’s homeless population, organizing community events and cleanups, and taking steps to become a formal nonprofit organization.

A significant portion of the evening was dedicated to discussing how the community could address what many referred to as a “homeless problem.”

Some suggested helping those experiencing homelessness in cleaning up their campsites and being “firm, but not rude” in approaching those individuals when there is an issue.

Residents at the meeting complained about homeless individuals creating messes and some who appear intoxicated or passed out from drug use.

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“They need to be held accountable for what they’re doing,” Gower said.

Rob Benson, lead pastor at Matt’s House, a church and community resource center, told those at the meeting that he understood that Arbutus residents were frustrated, but wants the community and Matt’s House to work together. Some had blamed Matt’s House on Facebook for exacerbating the “homeless problem.”

“[We’re] here because we want to help,” Benson said.

Matt’s House, located at 5406 East Drive in Arbutus, offers a “drop-in” center three days a week that provides services including laundry assistance, shower/hygiene packets, and individual and group counseling.

Benson and Cugle Blair both said they’d like to see the CCGA and Matt’s House work together in the future.

“That’s what we came to do,” Benson said, “work with the community, be a part of the community, make the community a better a place.”

Betina Tebo, president of the Greater Arbutus Business Association (GABA), said she would happily work together with the community group.

“We support them and their efforts, but they’ve got to do their work,” Tebo said. “It’s not easy, it’s not always very rewarding, but if it’s for the good of the community and Arbutus as a whole, then it’s something worthwhile doing it.”

GABA plans and organizes annual events in Arbutus, including the Arts Festival and The Arbutus Beautification Project.

County Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Arbutus, said he was not aware ahead of time of the specific meeting to begin organizing a new community group, but said he was generally supportive of those sorts of community efforts.

What comes next

The group has tentatively scheduled its next meeting for 7 p.m. Sept. 13, though a location is still being determined. Organizers said they’ll begin working on opening a bank account, electing a board and filing as a formal nonprofit organization.

“We are 100 percent looking into all those things, and moving forward with those,” Cugle Blair said.

Transitioning to a formal organization would allow CCGA to raise funds for projects and apply for grants from Baltimore County that are disbursed to community organizations for events such as cleanup days.

In the meantime, between organizing and meeting again, Cugle Blair said the group likely would arrange at least one small community cleanup, “just to kind of keep us focused and unified.”

“Every person there said that they want to make Arbutus what it used to be, and one of those things that Arbutus used to do was talking to your neighbor,” she said. “So do something that Arbutus used to do, and get outside and talk to your neighbor about the issues.”

Cugle Blair said those looking to get involved should seek out the Facebook group or call her at 443-790-0971.

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